Topic: Business & Commercial

The Secret Shame of Chex Mix
(4/3/2005)

We find unethical conduct in the most surprising places. Sometimes it is so trivial, so minor in consequence, that we might miss it entirely. A little thing, not worth making a federal case over; in fact, we might even feel silly mentioning it. So it works. Soon the unethical has been adopted by others, and begins accumulating the armor of the Golden Rationalization: "Everybody does it."

This is another reason for us to heed small lies, minor ethical violations and tiny infractions. Those who are willing to do the small wrongs are much more susceptible to temptation to do larger wrongs, even crimes. We can't trust purveyors of small lies to avoid big ones. We should only trust the people who choose not to lie at all.

This is all an introduction to decrying the ethical instincts of Nabisco, the makers of Chex Mix. While shopping some months ago, I was enticed by the prominent lettering on the Chex Mix package that read "60% LESS FAT." With the taste memory of my mother's home-made Chex mix welling up in my mouth…Ahh, the peanuts! The pretzel pieces! The Worcestershire sauce! And especially the Rice Chex, which really soaked up the flavor…I bought a bag, which, I had been assured, had "60% LESS FAT" than, I supposed, the last time I had bought the stuff.

Two weeks and three bags later, I somehow found myself reading the package (it was a slow day), and found that there was some small print under "60% LESS FAT." To my surprise and chagrin, the full message was:

60% LESS FAT
than regular potato chips!

Potato chips? And what does that have to do with anything? I don't think of Chex Mix as potato chips, because they aren't. I don't even think of them as substitutes for potato chips; they cost quite a bit more, for one thing. And who puts Chex Mix into onion dip? Does Chex Mix taste good with a tuna fish sandwich?

Gee, as long as Nabisco was pulling this trick, why stop at potato chips? Heck, why not, say: "90% LESS FAT than a regular can of Crisco"? That's as "true" as the potato chip statistic. After all, the real intent of the company isn't to pass along gratuitous comparisons with different snacks…it's to deceive the consumer into buying a package of Chex Mix based on a misunderstanding of what "60% LESS FAT" refers to. If not, then why is half the sentence in such small print?

This is what is called deceit, a variety of dishonesty in which one makes a true statement in a manner and under conditions that are calculated to deceive the reader or listener. It is as dishonest, in effect, as a Chex Mix label that read:

"PROMOTES HEART HEALTH better than a pound of greasy French fries!" or "PREVENTS CANCER if you eat a bag instead of smoking a pack of cigarettes."

For some reason, the FTC doesn't bother with this kind of packaging dishonesty, theoretically opening the door for SUV print ads that announce "GREAT GAS MILEAGE compared to an Abrams tank" and soft drink labels announcing "NOW WITH MINERALS if you eat this can."

The only way to eliminate the Chex Mix deceit and hundreds of other small dishonesties practiced by corporations is for consumers to speak loudly and clearly, conveying a message that we will not buy the products and services of companies that attempt to deceive us even a little bit. A company that pulls this nonsense cannot be trusted; because by doing so it shows that it is willing to attract dollars with dishonesty. Sure, Enron swindles and WorldCom frauds and all the rest are well down the road, but it's the same road.

We have to demand complete honesty, all the time, from corporations. Anything else is a license to steal.

 

   
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